Education leaders head back to the classroom–together

Minnesota kids deserve an excellent education. Ask just about any school board member, teacher, or parent, and that’s one thing they’ll all agree on. Yet building and sustaining a school system that delivers on that promise to all students is one of our community’s toughest challenges.

The Minneapolis Foundation invests heavily in education, but we also know that solving complicated problems like the ones facing our schools will take more than money – it will require a commitment from people all over our community to collaborate and share ideas.

That’s why the Foundation sponsored the Education Idea Exchange this spring, convening 50 Minneapolis education leaders for a fact-finding trip to Chicago. The trip supported a priority of Minneapolis’ superintendent: finding new ways for local classrooms to support social-emotional learning. It turns out that helping students develop the attitude and skills to show empathy, make responsible decisions, and manage their feelings isn’t just key to character development; it also promotes academic achievement.

Delegates on the trip included school board members, school administrators, parents, Minneapolis Foundation donors, education advocates in the nonprofit community, and leaders from the local teachers’ union. The group heard from an array of experts, including three former Chicago superintendents and former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. They also visited 10 schools to observe teachers who use a variety of strategies to foster social-emotional learning, from deep-breathing lessons to a classroom Peace Center where students can go to de-stress.

For some delegates, witnessing social-emotional learning in action was the most powerful part of the trip. “Watching it faithfully applied by committed teachers was a thoroughly overwhelming experience,” said Don Samuels, a Minneapolis school board member. “I was so moved, I cried like a baby.”

The trip lasted only three days, but the group isn’t done: They’ve already reconvened to talk about how they can build on what they learned. “We hope this trip is just a starting point,” said Patrice Relerford, the Foundation’s Director of Impact Strategy for Education. “If we can get everybody who cares about our students pulling together toward shared goals, we can create a powerful social network for change.”